Having recently returned from my third international yoga retreat, followed by a week of traveling and another week of intense yoga study, I am reminded how three forms of communication connect my body through yoga, foreign travel and immersion in nature. Each brings many benefits but when we combine all of them we can experience a dramatic shift that reveals a depth of awareness so startling that what seemed improbable becomes possible.
One of human beings greatest and most complex forms of communication is language, specifically native languages. They are the most common way we use our body to engage with the world. Language has allowed our species to not only survive in a world with rather poor physical defenses but to flourish – covering every part of the world in an unprecedentedly short time and without any awareness. While human survival is dependent upon these languages, their effectiveness is limited and dependent upon individual cognitive capacity. Restricted to certain groups of people and even among these specific groups, languages can lead to misunderstandings, conflicts and isolation.
Graphics or images are another form of communication. These forms can be simpler and more efficient than complex languages. They are often represented by non-verbal signs and symbols that are easy to identify and generally don’t require much assistance to recognize them. Like languages, most are constructed by humans but only appear in written or graphical representations. Their unspoken, simplified meanings make communication across nations, states and borders easier. They move our bodies in a much deeper ways without judgement and with little need for cognitive analysis. These graphical forms have their drawbacks as well, often having several meanings which can lead to ambiguity.
Universal forms are the third method used for communication. These are more visceral than other methods because unlike language and graphics, the universal forms go beyond the thinking brain and human construction. These are non-verbal. They have the potential to speak to everyone in ways that can bring us deeply into our bodies and therefore, our bodies into the world.
Driven by nature these forms call us towards an innate wisdom shared by all human beings and the universe. Stars, planets, mountains, trees, rivers and even our bodies are universal forms of communication but unlike the non-verbal graphics of airports and driving, these forms come before our human interpretations and point towards a universal knowledge. A knowing that is begging to be heard.
Yoga aptly uses language, graphics and universal forms to help quiet the body and break us from patterns of thoughts to actualize the experience of our body. Stepping onto our yoga mat for the first time we are drawn into a body that is disruptive, discomforting and destabilizing. This creates tension which in turn reveals places in our bodies that have been ignored for years. During these moments we ‘experience’ a depth of the body that begins to reveal a very different perspective than when we first stepped on our mat. Unfortunately, it takes years to learn, the language isn’t clear, and judgments lead towards avoidance.
Traveling abroad affords us unique way to communicate without using native languages. Instead, we rely more upon graphical forms of communication to guide our bodies. Walking through any airport, our bodies follow these graphics towards security checks, customs, baggage claim, bathrooms and the exit. We have only a vague idea where we are going but one thing is for certain, our whole body is involved in finding our way. Driving a car in a foreign place is another example. We recognize the traffic lights, yellow lines, and street addresses, but something is slightly askew. Driving doesn’t ‘feel’ like the usual. We experience something unique during an event we once thought we knew and this new perspective didn’t come from thinking but from an experience.
Engaging in nature is where we find universal forms of communication and I think the most effective way of doing so. Rivers, particularly, play a pivotal role in communication. Rivers mark the origins of all civilizations where large communities would gather for daily sacrifices, bathing rituals, purification ceremonies, and sacrificial offerings. To this day, it is customary for millions of people to make ‘pilgrimages’ to sacred rivers and take a ritual ‘bath’ in them. The river essentially is a sign or a ‘call’ to immerse our body into a symbol of life – a symbol whose rushing waters shock us out of our heads and into our bodies to witness our body as a universal form of nature that has been neglected from the world.
While traveling abroad this past month, my body was pulled away from the familiar and into the unknown. My native language no longer accurately served me. I needed to rely upon more graphical and universal forms of communication. At first it was a struggle, but, when my mind stopped holding, my body began to listen and my perspective drastically changed.
A thrill ran through the evening when millions of stars guided my way through the darkness of night while the presence of hundreds of fireflies reassured me I was not alone. The same thrill continued by daylight. Wading a path through uncut grasses and wildflowers, bees and butterflies of many colors, sizes and shapes carried me along with them. Waterfalls, streams and alpine lakes beckoned me to jump into their waters. There I swam juxtaposed against some of the highest mountains in the world. Like a great orator, their majesty commanded my devotion. I looked up to hear their calls. Nature pulling me into the moment, these universal forms penetrated me as my own form became part of them.
In another moment, I heard thousands of butterflies swarming around me. In unspoken terms they told me to not worry, that a transformational beauty exists when you are ready to hear it.
Upon my return, I sat for a few days wondering about the incredible journey I was so grateful to experience, when, suddenly, it hit me. Make a pilgrimage. With eyes big and bright, arms stretched out and feet on the ground: continue to practice, travel outside your comfort zone, most importantly experience nature. Take every moment to absorb the smell, touch, taste and sights. All the signs and symbols point towards a transformational process. They can free your mind. Experience them. Share them. You owe it to your self – to your future, to reclaim this knowledge and develop a depth of awareness to experience your body not as a separate, isolated thing but as a part of the whole universal oneness.
This post was written by Michael Ruccolo